tivodecode doesn't do any codec conversion. It simply decrypts the .tivo to a .vob (assuming you're dealing with a US Tivo) so your MAK isn't required for future playback.
The one advantage that a .tivo file has is that it embeds metadata. pyTivo allows you to emulate most of the metadata via txt files, but I seem to recall there are some metadata fields that can only be transferred as part of the .tivo.
Is their any quality loss in either the .tivo or .mpg format compared to the file on the TiVo itself? I thought I recalled reading that it was automatically downsampled if it didn't go through an HDMI connection.
No difference in the video stream, just different container formats.
HDCP restrictions have to do with the playback device or software. A compliant player is supposed to downsample on playback of HDCP protected material IF the output is going to a non-HDCP compatible device.
Anything you can download from your Tivo does not have the copy protect bit set. The Tivo MAK encryption is used to restrict the recording to your devices. Once you run it through tivodecode, that MAK encryption is stripped away. There is no HDCP in the .tivo file nor the resulting vob file.
Now if you have digital cable or other content on your Tivo that does have the copy protect bit set, your Tivo will NOT let you download it. Some cable providers turn this on for all non-free channels (your local over the air channels are by law not encrypted AND should not have the copy protect bit set.) In other cases, individual shows broadcast through the cable network can have the copy protect bit set, i.e. the show provider set the bit before handing it off to the cable provider.
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